Born in Austria, Wolfgang Puck trained as a chef in Europe before moving to America at the age of 24 and subsequently becoming one of the country's most famous chefs.
After settling in Los Angeles, he opened his first restaurant in the city in 1982 and has since gone on to manage an array of restaurants in America and internationally, including the Dorchester Collection's Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air and CUT at 45 Park Lane in London. He tells John O' Ceallaigh what he looks for in a restaurant and shares the names of his favourite restaurants in the world below.
I can go to a simple restaurant; if the service is polite and professional it's great. For years I used to say people don't care about the service as long as the food is good but now I know that if the guest walks into the restaurant and is greeted nicely and taken care of then half the battle is won. Some things can leave me annoyed though: when waiters try to tell me how to eat this or that or what wine I should order it can be overbearing. I'm old enough to make my own mind up. In America it almost feels like you become friends with the waiters, but it’s good to be nice because you want the waiter to be on your side, to tell you what the best dish is and to help you make the most of your night. Going out to a good restaurant isn’t just about going out to feed yourself, it’s about going out and having a good experience, catching up with friends and celebrating what's special.
The Fat Duck; Bray, England
When I’m in England I love going to The Fat Duck. I know Heston Blumenthal very well and when I went there I was really impressed by the restaurant’s inventiveness and modern style of cooking. The food is excellent, of course, but it’s not just about that – you go there for the entire experience. That said, I particularly remember some beautiful lamb chops I had. There was also a seafood dish, Sound of the Sea, where they gave me an iPod so I could listen to the waves as I ate; it was fun, clever and delicious.
L'Oustau de Baumanière; Les Baux-de- Provence, France
I love the L'Oustau de Baumanière restaurant in Les Baux, near Avignon in the south of France. I worked there when I was 18 or 19 or so, and Raymond Thuilier was the owner and chef. Now, every three years or so, I have the opportunity to go back to eat there and stay there as a customer. The restaurant is within a hotel - it’s a fabulous place to visit. In the restaurant they’re very famous for their baby lamb in puff pastry, which they made when I worked there as well. People come especially for it. Thuilier really cooked from his heart, he did his own thing and he didn’t cook from recipes. He had a huge vegetable garden and everything was brought in fresh and cooked to order. If you wanted carrots we peeled the carrots and cooked them; if you wanted a vegetable soup we cooked it to order, and we only used the best products.
I like Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. He has a chef there who cooks with olive oil and the food isn’t overly rich or French. It’s more like a mixture of France and Italy and it uses a lot of local products. The clientele is quite international – I used to work in that hotel before Ducasse came – and the dining room is very glamorous and romantic and grand, the way you expect a three-Michelin-starred restaurant to be. It’s a good option if you want to go out for a birthday or anniversary, something special.
One of my favourite places in Los Angeles is Matsuhisa. It’s been open for 27 years and I like it because it’s like wearing a great cashmere sweater. It’s always good, it’s always nice, it’s always comfortable. It’s not fancy-looking, but the people are friendly and the fish is as fresh as could be. When I eat out in LA I tend to know most of the people working there, and lots of the guests too so it’s social. When I go to Matsuhisa I tell the chef to just fix me something. I’m never disappointed because when you ask them to do that it means they always try their hardest.
Steiereck; Vienna, Austria
There’s a restaurant called Steiereck in Vienna which is a family restaurant and probably the best restaurant in Austria. It’s inventive but you can still get a Wiener schnitzel or other traditional food. When I go back to Austria that’s what I want, so I tell the chef to cook me something Austrian. They’ve got a great Austrian wine list too. It’s popular with locals but everybody goes there. If you are a businessman in Vienna and you have a colleague coming from London who likes good food you’d take him there. The interior is beautiful, elegant and modern, and so is the location; it’s in a large park that would be similar to Hyde Park in London.
Spago; Los Angeles, America
Saying which of my own restaurants is a favourite is like asking me which child is my favourite, but I love Spago in Los Angeles because it was my first one. When I opened it in 1982 I wrote ‘Spago California cuisine’ on the menu. Californian cuisine is a mixture, as LA or California is, of different cultures, so we have Asian influences, Italian influences, French influences. It’s a mixture of different dishes and cuisines. When I started we made a pizza with smoked salmon and caviar and Peking duck. We had some interesting pastas and salads and grilled items. I’d recommend whole-egg ravioli with a Carbonara-style sauce that’s really popular. The Peking duck is also still really popular and people still order the smoked salmon pizza even if it’s not on the menu.
John O' Ceallaigh Telegraph.co.uk